A South-Central Los Angeles gang member was sentenced Friday to die in the gas chamber for murdering a Hawthorne merchant and robbing him of $80,000 outside a local bank in 1988.
Omar (Chico) Dent III, 28, shifted in his seat and then stretched as Torrance Superior Court Judge John P. Shook ordered him to San Quentin's death row.
"There is absolutely no question as to the guilt of the defendant," Shook said before issuing his sentence. "Death is supported overwhelmingly by the weight of the evidence presented in this case."
A jury convicted Dent in September of first-degree murder with special circumstances for the Aug. 19, 1988, shooting death of liquor store owner Byung Jin Kim. In addition to the murder and robbery charges, the seven-man, five-woman jury convicted Dent of kidnaping Kim and of attempted murder and second-degree robbery for shooting August Cardino, 44, a former New Jersey police officer who tried to follow Dent from the murder scene.
The jury acquitted Dent of additional counts of robbery, kidnaping and assault for an attack on another man outside the same bank a day earlier.
In a taped confession played for the jury, Dent told sheriff's detectives that he shot Kim during the morning robbery outside the California 1st National Bank in Lawndale because he believed that the merchant was reaching for a gun inside his van.
After shooting Kim, witnesses testified, Dent shoved the dying man aside, jumped into the driver's seat of the van and drove into a residential neighborhood in Lawndale.
When the van stalled a few blocks from the bank, Dent jumped out of the vehicle and ordered Cardino, who was following him in a car, to get out of the car and hand over the keys. Before Cardino could comply, Dent shot him in the shoulder.
Cardino lost part of his shoulder bone in the attack and his left arm is partially paralyzed, Deputy Dist. Atty. Bob Martin said. The bullet is lodged inside Cardino's body, behind his sternum.
Dent escaped with the money but was arrested the next morning. None of the $80,000, which Kim was taking to his store to supply his new check-cashing business, was recovered.
William MacCabe, one of Dent's two lawyers, argued passionately against the death sentence for nearly 90 minutes before Shook passed sentence.
"You're the last chance he's got," MacCabe told Shook. "The governor is not going to pardon Omar. The appellate court is not going to rule that he deserves a new trial . . . but that's because they don't know what went on here. You do."
MacCabe argued that Dent should not be given the death penalty because he never intended to kill or hurt anyone when he went out to commit the robbery.
"Omar had been shot three different times in drive-by shootings," MacCabe reminded Shook. "When somebody goes to reach for a gun, Omar knows what it's like to be shot and he reacts.
"Just because it's legal for Omar to be killed doesn't mean it's right. We have people living in prisons for life who have done things ten times worse than this."
Martin argued that there was no evidence other than Dent's word that Kim was reaching for a gun when Dent fired the fatal shots.
"Mr. Kim, the victim in this case, never had a preliminary hearing, never had a trial, never had a jury of his peers reach a verdict," Martin said. "It was up to the defendant, Mr. Dent, to be judge, jury and executioner. . . . We have given the defendant all the due process that anyone can receive."
After the sentencing, defense attorney Ron Rothman said he and MacCabe asked prosecutors to accept Dent's guilty plea in return for a sentence of life without possibility of parole. The offer was rejected.
"We just didn't feel that the death penalty was appropriate," he said. "We still don't."
The sentence will be automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court under state law.